No fish

2014-06-12 15.52.23

Next to suffer?Chitina dipnetters struggling to access Copper River sockeye in 2017/Craig Medred


The bad news some in the tiny, Alaska fishing port of Cordova were starting to expect came officially on Wednesday from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:


The catch in the 49th state’s most valuable sockeye salmon run “is the second lowest harvest to date in the last 50 years,” and the fishery that closed last week after a three-opening harvest of only 26,000 sockeye will remain closed indefinitely.

So much for the expected bonanza for commercial fishermen who opened the season with sockeye going for an unbelievable $9.50 per pound. Given how coveted these fish and how few have been caught, that price now looks low.

On the other hand, the catch – though tiny – looks high.

“To date, the sonar count (of fish in-river) is the ninth lowest (from) 1978-2017,” a Fish and Game announcement said. 

With the fishery closed since May 28, state biologists had been hoping for a flood of sockeye into the glacially turbid river, and returns did begin to pickup as the month began.

They remained well below projected goals, however. And then it got worse.

“Miles Lake sonar passage has declined since June 4,” the state agency reported. “Cumulative sonar count through June 5 is 95,515 fish whereas a minimum of 175,559 fish are projected by this date.”

The fishery is now more than 80,000 fish shy of the projection for the minimum in-river goal.

Some in Cordova have pointed out that in 2013 – the parent year for most of the fish returning – the sockeye run was also late. Less than 105,000 fish had entered the river by June 4 that year, only ten thousand more than this year.

But there was one huge difference.

The 2013 harvest had topped a half-million sockeye by the start of June. The monster, daily catch of 310,000 sockeye at the end of May 2013 was a daily record for the Copper. The catch data made it clear to fishery managers they had a lot of sockeye schooling off the mouth of the river waiting to enter.

There were in fact so many fish stacked up offshore in 2013 that when they finally swarmed for the river, the commercial fishery couldn’t slow them much. More than 100,000 salmon went by the sonar counter on June 10 and again on June 11.

Biologists are hoping that will happen again, but there is no hint of a comparable pileup of fish offshore. The known number of sockeye to arrive at the Copper so far his year is 108,000 – 82,000 past the sonar and 26,000 caught, killed and shipped south for sale.

The known number as of this date in 2013 was 686,000.

As longtime Cordova commercial fishermen James Mykland notes,
“we will be blessed to achieve our spawning escapement goal (SEG) on Copper River sockeye in 2018, and at same time, provide opportunity for the upriver users. Remember subsistence is top priority.”blurb1

In-river struggles

The state’s preseason outlook set aside 77,000 salmon for subsistence fishermen, who’ve already begun fishing. Another 130,500 were earmarked for personal-use dipnetters.

The subsistence fishermen, most of whom live in the Copper River valley, have both state and federal, legal priorities to salmon. Both subsistence and personal use fishing is limited to Alaska residents, but the personal use fishermen, many of whom trek to the Copper from Fairbanks or the Anchorage Metropolitan Area, lack the priority.

Along with a tiny sport fishery that kills only about 15,000 fish per year, the personal-use dipnetters can be restricted to ensure the river reaches the bottom of an SEG that ranges from 360,000 to 750,000 spawners.

The dipnetters have already seen their season sharply restricted.  Dipnetting was to open Thursday at 8 a.m and run for 88 hours. It has been reduced to 24 hours from noon Saturday to noon Sunday. 

A 168-hour period scheduled to run from June 11 to June 17 has only been cut nearly in half with dipnetters warned that “fishing time may be further reduced, or the fishery may be closed if sonar passage indicates a final in-river run below the lower bound of the sockeye salmon spawning escapement goal.”

The dipnet catch for the first period is expected to be small, largely because there are so few sockeye in the river. It takes about two weeks for sockeye to travel from the Miles Lake sonar into the dipnet fishery near Chitina, a dusty community of 120 about 200 miles east of Anchorage near the U.S. Canada border.

In the five days around the two-week start date of May 26, fewer than 15,000 fish entered the river. That barely qualifies as a good day at the peak of the sockeye run. More than twice as many salmon – 38,208 – passed the sonar counter on May 28 of last year.

The turnout for the opening day of the dipnet fishery is expected to be low.

Tip of iceberg

But the faltering sockeye runs in the Copper River might be only the start of a bigger story in Alaska where sockeye seem to be coming back unusually small almost everywhere.

Biologists say their shrunken size and the low return at the Copper is a sign of poor conditions on the ocean pasture. If that is the case, the Copper might not be the first weak run of little sockeye.

The Copper River fish delivered to processors averaged 4.3 pounds. Sockeye returning to the Main Bay hatchery in Prince William Sound are equally small. Those caught in the southwestern Sound fishing district are averaging 3.9 pounds and in the Montague district 3.5 pounds.

Those are normal weights for pink salmon not meatier sockeye or “red” salmon which often average five and a half to six pounds. 

None of this is good news for Alaska commercial, sport, subsistence and dipnet fishermen who can only wait and hope this isn’t the beginning of a trend.








43 replies »

  1. The fish count at Miles Lake sonar, is still showing decent fish passage, though we are still a 100K behind, the anticipated cumulative, at this date in time.
    Still a glimmer of hope, to reach SEG on sockeyes, and provide upriver opportunity.
    Not over, until it is over.

  2. I said a few days ago that it was premature to call this a failed run, this is now getting to the point where calling it a failed run is an acceptable time to call it. It’s not looking good through southcentral either, maybe Bristol Bay will pull through. If the bay pulls through it’s not an oceanwide issue but a regional issue…hatchery pinks could be the cause of a lot of this.

    • Watch out Steve-O:
      Just the mere mention of hatchery fish perhaps becoming a problem
      Will brand you a KRSA supporter or maybe a claim that you are Clark or Bob Penny. Some who
      post simply refuse to accept contrary viewpoints.

      • Just because a few idiots yell real loud doesn’t make them right. Everytime I see the acronym KRSA I have to try and remember what it stands for, then I remember that it is yet another commercial fishing organization pushing commercial fishing priorities.

        I once was a commercial fisherman, I am currently a sports fisherman. I could be a subsistence and/or personal use fisherman, but I prefer to catch my food in a sporting manner. I just want all of us to have wild fish in the future, I don’t have children but I still want other people’s children to have wild fish well into the future.

  3. Not that i am complaining, But why has the department not follow the regulation(5 AAC 77.001) and not allow a personal use fishery?

  4. Interesting how this article about the CR fishing debacle has been hihacked into a discussion about trapping, hunting and nostalgia. Guess some, not all, just do not want to acknowledge the possibility that the CR season might be a failure for reasons unknown. Kind of like an Ostrich burying its head in the sand.

    • TFC,
      What is it to you anyway? Not your blog. You are only an anonymous poster, causing chaos and uncertainty, with every word you write. You do not even use your real name, when you post. You think it is a big joke?
      Craig has the ability to delete a post, if he wants to.
      The 2018 Copper River sockeye return is a absolute run failure, that is effecting the lives of many Alaskans, who depend on the fish for their own sustenance. No one I know, who is affected by this disaster, is hiding their heads in any sand.

      • I’m causing chaos and uncertainty with every word I write? Really James? I have that affect? Thanks!
        I do not blame you for your anger. If I were a PWS CR gill net fisher or loyal PWS commercial fishing supporter I would be very upset with the way things are stacking up. But taking your anger out on somebody that offers comments is misplaced. There is no rule that someone who wishes to post a comment need identify themselves. Good thing probably, given the anger sometimes demonstrated. I stand by my comment that some are indeed venturing off subject. Hunting tales, trapping stories. Really?
        It is easy to blame this “ fishing” disaster on unknown ocean conditions. That way nobody has to take responsibility. Surely it can’t be hatchery fish being released by the hundreds of millions competing for food, or over harvest and over counting that might be causing a problem. That would bring into the equation business, biology, and management decisions.

      • TFC,
        Now I got it. You were part of that group (krsa) or at least supported, and believes the nonsense of the recent BOF hatchery release petition scheme. How did that work out for you? Not so well?
        Posting anonymously:
        Fake news? You could be a Russian hacker, working for Putin!
        I stand by what I say, anonymously posters are not willing to divulge their identity, since it is too easy to be a hater, behind a mask.
        At least Bill & Allen put their true name to their post.

    • So AF you are even going to whine about some folks talking about something other than what you think should be covered. Comments have deviated somewhat from the article but nobody has hijacked the article.
      Frankly I don’t think anyone who has been following CR fishery thinks anything other than the CR season is a failure for reasons unknown, so far. Whom are you speaking of that might have their heads in the sand??

    • TFO,
      All these people that you mention
      Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
      I had to rearrange their faces
      And give them all another name

    • TFC,
      Are you Bob Penny?
      The mentor of all CI fish pundits! Or maybe Clark?
      The pump don’t work
      Cause the vandals took the handle

      • Now his nurse, some local loser, she’s in charge of the cyanide hole
        And she also keeps the cards that read,
        “Have Mercy On His Soul”
        They all play on the penny whistles, you can hear them blow
        If you lean your head out far enough from
        Desolation row

    • This was all part of that hope and change and transparency. Now, a year later, I gotta ask the supporters of all that. “How’s that hopey, changey thing, workin out for ya”? Do you love your freedom?
      You can blame me, when she ran for gov, I voted for her. She came to Cordova, and was full charisma. I drank the koolaid. I take full responsibility, for my actions and support.
      Well, I have said enough off the subject, of the CR dismal sockeye return.
      I will be dead and long gone, and the CR sockeye will still be here.
      God bless the Salmon!

    • Yes, you are correct, there are no rules concerning posting, though a “real” man is not afraid of stating, what he believes in and what he believes to be true. At the same time, stating who he is and what he is all about.
      ie: Quote from Patrick Henry in 1775:
      “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

    • I truly enjoyed the back and forth, on trapping and hunting lifestyle myself. I in no way think they hijacked the post.

      • It is all good Paul. I have know Bill, as a fellow PWS/CR drift fisher, who sold out a number of years ago. He is still in Alaska, enjoying all the many benefits of the great Alaska Outdoors.
        His observations are usually spot on, and when he is wrong, he will admit it. I will always read or listen to whatever he has to say.

        The CR sockeye return, this year, has impacted every user up and down the river. We are in an unprecedented situation, with the chance of not even achieving our escapement goals.
        Such is life! No easy resolution here, though there is always next season. Take care of yourself and your family, all of our top priorities.

  5. Welcome to the Medred Social Network! Well, I guess them’s pretty good yarns but let me tell you how I lost my……

    • At least, Craig allows us to vent. And I also greatly appreciate his dedication and devotion to the Alaska Outdoors. Thank goodness the majority of the people in the lower 48 cannot handle the Great Alaskan Outdoors!

  6. I hunt with Ed Mayer who has a camp off of Elliot Hwy and my cabin is another 6 miles beyond Ed’s. I had only trapped in there for years and didn’t have a way into my cabin during summer. I used to leave my truck in Minto and travel with dogs and snow machine in winters. About 10 years ago I met up with Mayer while out trapping and I’ve been using his trail to his place ever since.
    Know the name Frank Gurtler but don’t know him. Did get a nice bull on my lake last year.

    • Bill, Nice. Ed caught a wolf this year. I think i will have it done for him shortly. He caught it out by the cabin using some of George Painters traps and snares.

      • I was thinking that you probably know George Painter. He once told me “I’ve never voted for a Democrat in my life!” He’s in Idaho now but wishes he were back in Alaska. I remember picking up my traps end of season and heading to my truck and there is George, at Ed’s camp, and he is all by himself and he’s getting close to 90 years old. Tough old Alaskan.

      • Ole George, using a snow machine that could barely make it in and out to the cabin and ole yeller, the truck that somehow made up and down the hwy. Such do miss him up hear.

      • And George was blind in one eye and couldn’t see out of the other. Not sure how he got his driver’s license, either. He liked to drive at night as he could see headlights to avoid.
        He also got charged by a grizzly (with cubs) a few years ago with his rifle across his back-luckily it was a false charge as he couldn’t have gotten to his rifle in time. He needed a change of shorts and never carried his rifle like that again.

      • Bill, you will have to stop by the shop next time in fairbanks. then i can give a personal lesson on traps and trapping. LOL

      • Thanks for the invite on trapping lessons-I could use some. My wolf trapping was never that good. I do have a wolf toe that I’m needing to have mounted some time.

      • C:\Users\Zeke\Pictures\moose 2015\IMG_0286.JPG
        Here is a moose Junior Stoltz and I got in 2015 in Minto area.
        Sorry about this monk but you were going to tell us how you lost your cherry-go ahead.

  7. The 2018 CR sockeye return, can now be classified as a “run failure”. We were all hopeful, that fish count would increase, during this last week. Not happening, in fact the fish passage is still tracking below the daily anticipated. As a result, the actual cumulative fish count, keeps falling behind on the anticipated minimum cumulative. Not a good thing! Look for further restrictions on all upriver users, in the coming days. The State can and will restrict the state subsistence permits, in the Glennallen/Chitna sub districts, if needed. The State, can also recommend to the Feds restrictions, for the Federal subsistence fish wheels permits, in same sub districts, that rural residents use. That will be worst case scenario, and hopefully will not have to be enforced.
    Currently we are faced with one of the smallest CR sockeye returns, since the state started keeping records. It is a really bad situation for all of the user groups on the Copper River. The Alaskan municipalities, villages, communities and cities, that depend on this great resource are suffering and there is no relief in sight.
    The commercial fishery on the lower Copper River is basically over, and will not open again, until late July, when the CR sockeye return is done. What a disaster!

      • James, After seeing yesterdays count, I had a feeling you were right, sorry about the NN comment. It was hard for me to accept, but numbers do not lie. All the best to you James! You are a good Man!

    • that might be an understatement given the $9.50 per pound price. that wouldn’t have held through the season, but even if fishermen were able to move 200,000 sockeye at a 4.5 pound average that’s an $8.5 million pay out.
      figure another 742,000 at at a more realistic $2.50/3 per pound to round out that 942,000 forecast harvest, and you’re looking at another $8.5 million or so even with the fish running tiny.

  8. In 1980 the expected sockeye run was so dismal that no red gear was allowed and fishermen hung king nets to be able to fish at all. They were not allowed to fish low waters as every sockeye was wanted upstream. Those king nets were fished for years during the first few periods, when kings were most plentiful, until they were finally outlawed completely.
    I suspect that king gear would have been allowed this year without that law change and would have given some Flats fishermen fishing time. Although this year seems to be a surprise at the low numbers, where 1980 it was expected.

      • It was all we could get near Minto back in the 80s Al. Bill Walley owned it and took on a partner that started it heading to where it is now. Used to be a lot of characters calling in like Joe Vogler. Also, back then, Larry King was on weeknights and Bruce Williams.
        I can’t listen to it anymore! I still moose hunt Septembers up there but listen to socialist radio, now.

      • yes that was good radio, when bill walley was on. I also liked it when frank delong owned it. It is not as good now. except when i am on once month. usually the first Tuesday of every month.

      • Frank Delong was the owner when the conversation between farmer and talk-show host occurred on livestock humane law. I’m not sure how the conversation between she and Frank went but she got her walking papers from him. What was surprising about that whole conversation was that those Fbks rednecks just loved that gal (can’t remember her name). She had told a story about taking a shooting course and when asked why she took it she answered “I want to be able to shoot a man, if my family or I are ever threatened!”
        But she came between a farmer and being able to castrate his hogs, so she had to go.

      • Bill i can only think of three ladies that were on the radio during frank delongs tenner. lori backus, lynnette clark and the ex wife of jim bickley her name escapes me.

      • Bill Walley and Frank Delong were partners for a while until Bill died. I believe the episode was after Bill had died. The name Lori Backus sounds familiar, to me, but I’m just not that sure. It was a morning talk show that the woman hosted. Might have been Problem Corner.

      • That who i was thinking, because she was let go. You go to Manley hunting are you stepping on the toes of frank gurtler?

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